We’re seeing something new in organizations these days, both in the corporate world and in the not-for-profits and the non-profits. Within the past two years (the exact timeframe might be a little vague but it’s been somewhere during the past two, three years or so), there has been a critical turnaround in the management community. KM/knowledge services is now part of the management agenda. The people who do the managing in our companies now understand the good management means good KM/knowledge services.
Well of course. We’ve been trying to tell them that for years. Whereas just a few short years ago those of us working with knowledge workers found ourselves leading, cajoling, persuading, doing everything we could to get senior management to pay attention to knowledge value, the opposite seems to be the case today. We worked so hard to get them to listen to what we had to say about how knowledge development and knowledge management – our good ol’ KD/KS – and sometimes we were successful but most of the time (if we are truly honest with ourselves), it didn’t work. They weren’t very interested.
You remember the scenario: Not so long ago, to be called in to meet with management about some KM/knowledge services project (or even just a concept – forget about something as mature as a concept – meant days of preparation, with most of the preparation having to do with coming up with definitions, case studies, examples, and just plain old story-telling to make sure the people you were meeting were on the same wave length as you. Of course you had to do a lot of what the kids call “dumbing down” because you learned – early on – that anything that smacked of “knowledge” or “learning” was ‘way to academic for these folks. So you went in assuming they would not have any idea of what “knowledge management” meant (you had been through this often enough that you could hear it coming – and usually not far into the conversation – “what’s this about managing knowledge? knowledge can’t be managed? you can’t buy and sell knowledge?”). And you replied dutifully, “Well yes, sir. That’s true, but let me explain….”
And off you went, you and the team in the organization that wanted to move forward – in tiny steps, remember, we don’t want to get things too confused. And step by step, all the way along you worked very hard to make sure that you were getting through, that company leadership – the people who were going to authorize the funding – understood that there would be value in managing knowledge (but value of course being defined in terms that were explicitly understood by management, usually with a big ROI sign on it).
Not any more. We can’t (yet) understand how the change came about, but nowadays we are living a totally different story. Now when you’re introduced to someone in senior management, it’s a very short trip from “we’re not taking advantage of what our people know” to Peter Drucker to Larry Prusak to Tom Davenport to David Gurteen and even – surprising me! – on to David Snowden. And then the conversation turns to the others who pop up in the business magazines.
I’m loving it. Aren’t you?
And get this: These managers are not interested in taking cautious, “tiny steps.” They’ve figured out that it’s not all about managing ICT (which used to be the case with the MBA folks), it’s not even about having the ICT people turn themselves into “knowledge managers.” It’s about – these managers tell us – how people use information and communications technology to work better, more efficiently, and – not to put too fine a point on it – to work together, to work more collaboratively.
Senior management knows this now, and knows that good KM/knowledge services means the whole organization is more effective, leading to success with that over-arching goal so clearly sought in modern management terms: the company must be effective. Organizational effectiveness – however defined in the particular organization – is today’s management mantra and organizational effectiveness comes from one source and one source only: the competencies and the energies of company staff in developing and sharing knowledge. Management knows it, we strategic knowledge professionals know it, and the organization’s employees know it. This is the time.